If you are a fan of the great American road trip, chances are that you
have heard of Route 66. Without a doubt it is the most famous highway in America. Did you know that there are active Route 66 associations that plan trips and activities in more than a dozen countries? Did you know that in the summer of 2018, more than 20,000 enthusiasts gathered in Zlin, Czech Republic for the second European Route 66 Festival? Perhaps the most amazing thing about Route 66 today is that in spite of its popularity, it does not exist, at least officially. The highway was removed from the roster of US highways in 1985.
Today Route 66, signed as county and state highways or farm roads, remains as the ultimate road trip. It is a 2,000 mile string of living time capsules, and America’s longest theme park. It is a neon lit museum where the past and future intersect seamlessly. It is an adventure like no other.
Certified as a U.S. highway in 1926, this iconic road has always had the best press and publicity, hence its popularity today. In 1927 a marketing campaign branded it the Main Street of America. In 1932 it was promoted as the highway to the Olympics in Los Angeles. In 1939 it was given the moniker Mother Road in the book The Grapes of Wrath. In 1946 crooner Nat King Cole sang about getting your kicks on Route 66, a song that has gone on to be the most recorded one in history. Then came the television show.
For those with an adventuresome spirit a Route 66 road trip can be the ultimate adventure. Imagine a day that includes the exciting Navy Pier in Chicago, dinner at the Berghoff that opened in 1898, and a fascinating walking tour led by architectural historian Dave Clark. Before crossing the Mississippi River into St. Louis you would have an opportunity to visit the home of President Abraham Lincoln and his presidential library, enjoy incredible four berry cobbler at the Wild Hare Cafe housed in a 1910 bank, wind a vintage town clock in Atlanta, take in the Society of Guilders Museum in Pontiac, and enjoy a drive in movie in Litchfield.
The trip across Missouri begins in St Louis. You would follow Route 66 through Forest Park, home to an array of museums, art galleries and the zoo, and take in the incredible Museum of Transportation. Other highlights of a trip across Missouri on Route 66 include the 1936 Wagon Wheel Motel, a time capsule with the modern amenities you would expect, in Cuba, a vacuum cleaner museum, the scenic wonder of Devil’s Elbow, the eclectic little village of Red Oak II, and wonderful restaurants such as Missouri Hick barbecue and the FourWay housed in a 1930’s service station and garage that offers an excellent lamb burger.
Before arriving at the western terminus of this highway in Santa Monica, there are ghost towns, the oldest community in America that dates to about 1200 A.D, the world’s only electric vehicle museum, the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, the largest gun museum in the world, vintage motels and hotels, Cadillac Ranch, the wonders of Santa Fe, Amarillo’s 6th Avenue district, and little gems such as Clanton’s Cafe in Vinita, Oklahoma that is operated by the family that opened the restaurant in 1927
Now, if the popularity of Route 66 comes as a surprise, or if you are looking for a bit of inspiration to plan the next great road trip, the California Historic Route 66 Association will be hosting a Route 66 Info Fair at the historic El Garces in Needles, California on the afternoon of February 2.
In attendance will be Mike Ward, a prestigious collector of post cards and related memorabilia, as well as a number of Route 66 authors and historians. I will also be in attendance to answer questions, and sign copies of books including Travel Route 66 and 100 Things To Do On Route 66 Before You Die. I will also have a few souvenirs, promotional materials from all along the Route 66 corridor including Cuba, Missouri’s Mural City, and information about Jim Hinckley’s America. I hope to see you in Needles this weekend.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America.